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Rising Wages: Has China Lost Its Global Labor Advantage?


  • Dennis Tao Yang

    (Chinese University of Hong Kong/ The Conference Board)

  • Vivian Chen

    (The Conference Board)

  • Ryan Monarch

    (University of Michigan)


We document dramatic rising wages in China for the period 1978–2007 based on multiple sources of aggregate statistics. Although real wages increased seven-fold during the period, growth was uneven across ownership types, industries and regions. In the last decade, the wages of state-owned enterprises increased rapidly and wage disparities between skill-intensive and labour-intensive industries widened. Comparisons of international data show that China’s manufacturing wage has already converged to that of Asian emerging markets, but China still enjoys enormous labour cost advantages over its neighbouring developed economies. Our analysis suggests that China’s wage growth will stabilize to a moderate pace in the near future.

Suggested Citation

  • Dennis Tao Yang & Vivian Chen & Ryan Monarch, 2009. "Rising Wages: Has China Lost Its Global Labor Advantage?," Economics Program Working Papers 09-03, The Conference Board, Economics Program.
  • Handle: RePEc:cnf:wpaper:0903

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Carsten A. Holz & Aaron Mehrotra, 2016. "Wage and Price Dynamics in China," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 39(8), pages 1109-1127, August.
    2. Naphon Phumma, 2014. "Neoliberalism and the global imbalances: the neo-Gramscian approach," Working Paper Series, Department of Economics, University of Utah 2014_04, University of Utah, Department of Economics.
    3. repec:eee:chieco:v:46:y:2017:i:c:p:249-260 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Dong He & Wenlang Zhang & Gaofeng Han & Tommy Wu, 2014. "Productivity Growth of the Nontradable Sectors in China," Review of Development Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 18(4), pages 655-666, November.
    5. Chadwick C. Curtis & Steven Lugauer & Nelson C. Mark, 2015. "Demographic Patterns and Household Saving in China," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 7(2), pages 58-94, April.
    6. Le Wang, 2013. "How Does Education Affect the Earnings Distribution in Urban China?," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 75(3), pages 435-454, June.
    7. Ge, Suqin & Yang, Dennis Tao, 2011. "Labor market developments in China: A neoclassical view," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 22(4), pages 611-625.
    8. Gary Fields, 2012. "Challenges and policy lessons for the growth-employment-poverty nexus in developing countries," IZA Journal of Labor Policy, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 1(1), pages 1-24, December.
    9. Mylène Gaulard, 2013. "La hausse des salaires en Chine et au Brésil depuis la crise de 2008," Post-Print halshs-01025742, HAL.
    10. Carsten A Holz & Aaron Mehrotra, 2013. "Wage and price dynamics in a large emerging economy: The case of China," BIS Working Papers 409, Bank for International Settlements.
    11. Dennis Tao Yang & Junsen Zhang & Shaojie Zhou, 2012. "Why Are Saving Rates So High in China?," NBER Chapters,in: Capitalizing China, pages 249-278 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Chao, Chi-Chur & Nabin, Munirul & Nguyen, Xuan & Sgro, Pasquale M., 2016. "Wage inequality and welfare in developing countries: Privatization and reforms in the short and long run," International Review of Economics & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 474-483.
    13. Lili Kang & Fei Peng, 2012. "A selection analysis of returns to education in China," Post-Communist Economies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 24(4), pages 535-554, March.
    14. Mayer, Jörg, 2012. "Global rebalancing: Effects on trade and employment," Journal of Asian Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(6), pages 627-642.
    15. Fariha Kamal & Mary E. Lovely & Devashish Mitra, 2014. "Trade Liberalization And Labor Shares In China," Working Papers 14-24, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
    16. Ramkishen S. Rajan & Javier Beverinotti, 2012. "The real exchange rate, sectoral allocation and development in China and East Asia: A simple exposition," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 24(4), pages 401-414, May.
    17. Cai, Lixin & Liu, Amy Y.C., 2015. "Wage determination and distribution in urban China and Vietnam: A comparative analysis," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(1), pages 186-203.
    18. Damien Cubizol, 2017. "Rebalancing in China: a taxation approach," Working Papers 1732, Groupe d'Analyse et de Théorie Economique Lyon St-Étienne (GATE Lyon St-Étienne), Université de Lyon.
    19. Prema-chandra Athukorala & Zheng Wei, 2015. "Economic Transition and Labour Market Dynamics in China: An Interpretative Survey of the ‘Turning Point’ Debate," Departmental Working Papers 2015-06, The Australian National University, Arndt-Corden Department of Economics.
    20. Ceglowski Janet & Golub Stephen S., 2012. "Does China Still Have a Labor Cost Advantage?," Global Economy Journal, De Gruyter, vol. 12(3), pages 1-30, September.
    21. Janet Ceglowski & Stephen Golub, 2011. "Does China Still Have a Labor Cost Advantage?," CESifo Working Paper Series 3579, CESifo Group Munich.
    22. Kang, Lili & Peng, Fei, 2013. "Economic Reform and Productivity Convergence in China," MPRA Paper 50810, University Library of Munich, Germany.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • J21 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Force and Employment, Size, and Structure
    • O5 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies


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